Info

badice.com ~ travel musings for the masses

Posts tagged europe

Choose another tag?

I have a trip coming up soon and I have been debating which routing I want to take to and from the destination for weeks. This always happens. I try to get the most out of the trip by choosing flights that have longer routes optimal for sleeping on the way to the destination and routes that work best for my schedule for the return. On this particular trip I could fly a new carrier, RyanAir, to Berlin’s Schonefeld airport, overnight there and fly Berlin-Tegel to Newark and then onward to Portland or I could fly to Amsterdam, overnight there and then fly to Houston on a Boeing 787-9 (a new type of plane for me) and then onward to Portland.

I ended up choosing the latter flight option because as a few people pointed out on Twitter, wouldn’t I want to avoid Newark at all costs? Well sure, but I love trying out a new carrier and I really enjoy Berlin. The Amsterdam flight will be fine and I am staying at the on-airport property Sheraton so it will be a quick 10 minute walk to get to the check-in counters in the morning, but I am still questioning my decision.

This is the one aspect of travel that I am terrible at, the actual planning. I question myself over and over and over and usually come to a conclusion only to continue questioning myself until I actually take the flight. Then who knows, I may question myself again later.

In any case, here’s to 2016 and seeing new places!

Around the U.S. the “tradition” of spring break has begun. Back in September I had made reservations for my wife and I to travel to Seoul, South Korea and onward to Singapore during this timeframe. We were going to do it in style, using my United miles to fly Asiana’s new business class to Seoul and Singapore’s first class from Singapore to Moscow then home. Due to circumstances with my work, I was required to be in Maryland (where I am writing this now) over part of our vacation. I cancelled the reward tickets and had settled on not doing much over spring break. As I started thinking about it, I really wanted to take a vacation, if even a little one. I’m sure my wife would appreciate a small break from Houston as well.

As I sat in the airport on Thursday morning I did a random search for reward seats from Houston to Europe and happened upon two seats on SWISS in business class. I grabbed them, flying us from Houston to Chicago to Zurich. Now, Zurich certainly is not a cheap city and has not really been on my radar to visit so I started exploring other European destinations, as well as a way to get home.

My mind immediately went to where would be easy to reach from Zurich. I looked at Croatia, which has been at the top of my “to visit” list for a while now but all of the connections would arrive later than 5pm which essentially wastes a half day of enjoyment. The story was the same for most of eastern Europe. Where could we go in western Europe that interested us and was somewhere new? Seth’s write-up on Hamburg peaked my interest. He explored the city in just 26 hours and I figure with a little more time my wife and I could really get to know it. I found a decent connection out of Zurich and had the reservations updated. We’re halfway to a full reward!

The hardest part in all of this was finding reward seats for the flights home. There was absolutely nothing available back to Houston. I could get us to Detroit or Newark but that’s as far as the flights would take us. A random search then brought back Frankfurt to Dallas-Fort Worth in Lufthansa first class. Now that’s an option I like! Then, when I decided that that was what I would book, it disappeared. United has a problem of showing ghost availability on Lufthansa (and others); It looks like the seats are there but really do not exist. I figured the seats disappearing was a ghost availability issue but the next day, there they were again! To double check that they were really there I used the ANA tool. Sure enough, there were two first class seats available on the Frankfurt-DFW non-stop. I called United and added the return.

Great Circle Mapper View of Our Trip

I am still missing a flight from DFW to Houston but my “worst case scenario” plan is to have a one-way rental car reservation made and just use that to get to IAH. If a flight from DFW opens or a non-stop from Europe to Houston opens, I’ll grab that as soon as I can and cancel the rental reservation.

It’s a little stressful planning these last minute trips but fun at the same time. The best part is being able to salvage some of the vacation time with my wife.

On Thursday evening, while randomly looking at reward availability on united.com, I happened upon two first class reward seats on Lufthansa’s A380. The flight would leave from Houston on December 29th and arrive in Frankfurt on December 30th. For 235,000 miles I knew I could have a one-way first class reward with a return in business class for two people. That coupled with how rarely Lufthansa opens first class seats on the A380 I started frantically planning a quick trip to Europe.

The first thing my wife and I did was start looking at different cities in Europe that we would want to spend New Years Eve in. We have been to Frankfurt and while it’s a pleasant city, there is not a whole lot there to do. After looking at hotel prices in Paris, London, Leipzig, Salzburg, and Vienna, we settled on Nuremberg, Germany. We have visited before and enjoyed it, so New Years Eve there would be enjoyable. I made a refundable hotel reservation and jumped into “how to make this happen” mode.

I searched for flights to get us to Houston by Tuesday evening. I have a 7:30am work flight on Wednesday and needed to give myself some time to repack and be ready to go. Jessica is joining me in New York on a later flight and would need time to do the same. Sure enough, I found two business class seats on Lufthansa’s new Boeing 748i to Washington-Dulles with a two hour connection before the final flight back to Houston.

Our dog would need to go to the kennel, we would need to make sure we had our Christmas tree taken down, and a few household chores needed to be completed before we could leave. Jessica got to work on the tree and we hauled it to the tree recycling drop-off. I called the dog kennel and made sure they had space, no issues there. We finished up some chores around the house and then started doubting ourselves.

I’ll admit, the thought of this trip revolved mostly around the idea of trying out Lufthansa’s new first class product on the A380. Neither of us was sold on the idea going back to Nuremberg. It’s a great city and I recommend it to anyone visiting Germany, but we had already been and were kind of wanting to enjoy a New Years Eve celebration. I had looked up what the festivities were in Nuremberg and while they had fireworks it just wasn’t like a New Year celebration like Paris or Amsterdam.

We decided to sleep on it and on the morning of 29th, I made the judgement call to not go. Not going would give us more time to focus on planning our activities in New York and would relieve a little bit of stress on the quick repacking front. Plus, not being sold on the final destination made it a little easier to bear.

That led to a refund.

All is not lost. I still have the miles and I am sure first class availability on the A380 will appear again. Would have it been an awesome trip? More than likely. Would it have been worth it? For such a short trip, I am not completely convinced. I certainly would have enjoyed the plane rides, but the time in Nuremberg would have been too short to really cherish. For this redemption, the lack of a desired destination coupled with the short time of the trip meant it was the right decision to refund the trip.

There is something about Berlin and I have yet to put my finger on it. It is hip, peaceful, busy, and reserved all at the same time. From walking through Tiergarten to exploring the neighborhoods in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, the city has something interesting from block to block. All I am sure of is that when I leave, I want to return. That says a lot about a city and its people.

How can you say “no” to random strangers enjoying great weather, great beer, and each other’s company?